The recent COVID-19 pandemic prompted a large amount of cases for anxiety and isolation. According to The Lancet, there were an additional 76.2 million cases of anxiety disorder in 2020 alone, and the issue isn’t going away. COVID cases remain high, and those vulnerable due to age or preexisting health conditions face more anxiety-inducing situations as restrictions are ended and they’re forced to return to work. In addition, a bleak economic outlook is causing people to feel more anxious.
If you’re in a situation where social anxiety and isolation or other mental health factors are having a negative impact on your life, you may find it a difficult cycle to escape. Isolation leads to anxiety, which causes you to isolate yourself further. One method that can help is interpersonal learning. First, let’s discuss the mental health impacts of anxiety and isolation and how they affect how you socialize.
Types of Isolation
According to established theories in psychotherapy, isolation takes three primary forms:
- Existential isolation: This covers the sense of isolation people feel between themselves and the world at large. To some extent, everyone retains a private world within themselves, so this type is felt by everyone on some level. Most of the time you barely notice it, but traumatic events or a heightened awareness of mortality can bring it to the fore, causing significant levels of anxiety.
- Intrapersonal isolation: This occurs when you experience a disconnect between parts of yourself. For example, if you stifle your emotions or lose trust in your decision-making abilities, this can lead to intense feelings of anxiety and isolation.
- Interpersonal isolation: This is the type of isolation that often leads to strong feelings of loneliness. It can occur even when you’re around other people if you feel no connection to them, whether through a lack of shared values or chronic pain preventing you from connecting. It’s also important to note that communicating through video or telephone does little to reduce feelings of interpersonal isolation.
One factor that runs through these three types of isolation is that they all lead to anxiety, which can impact how you socialize.
The Effects of Anxiety on Socializing
Anxiety and isolation can have a profound effect on socializing. When you’re anxious, you may constantly worry about how you appear to other people, questioning how they see you, perhaps blushing a lot and worrying about seeming incompetent. For example, most people out on a bowling night just enjoy the game, relax and chat with friends. However, if you’re anxious, you will likely think about how bad your game is, which in turn causes you to interact less with other people and become more isolated, perhaps not wanting to go at all next time. This type of anxiety is known as social anxiety disorder (SAD), and can have a considerable negative effect on your life.
It’s estimated that 7.1% of American adults experience some form of social anxiety, and recovery can be difficult. Fortunately, health care organizations like FHE have a range of tools to help, one of which is interpersonal learning.
What Is Interpersonal Learning?
The term “interpersonal learning” was first used to refer to a therapeutic method in 1970 by the renowned existential psychiatrist Irvin D. Yalom, and is extremely useful in treating anxiety and isolation. He was building on ideas created by other group therapy pioneers since the 1950s, and his 1970 work, “The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy,” which covers the topic, is still considered essential reading in the field of psychotherapy.
Interpersonal learning is a type of group therapy where you gain insight into yourself by interacting with others and use this to improve your interpersonal skills. This is achieved by using a feedback effect. When a group begins, the members will act and react how they usually would. Then, as the other group members are in a similar situation to you, you’ll observe behaviors that reflect your own and learn how they negatively impact you and those around you.
As group members receive feedback from their peers and the group leader, they learn to adopt more positive behaviors and socialize more effectively. In the early stages, the group leader typically doesn’t intervene too often unless there’s problematic behavior from one or more individuals. However, once the group becomes cohesive and the group leader feels progress is being made, they may steer conversations to work on areas they think particular members need help with.
How Interpersonal Learning Can Be a Solution to Learning
While many people are natural interpersonal learners and can pick up techniques and behaviors easily from interacting with others, many prefer to learn independently, especially if they suffer from isolation anxiety. People in this second group often struggle to express themselves in social situations. Interpersonal learning in a group setting can help in these areas, enabling the individuals to improve their social skills and reducing isolation, anxiety and feelings of loneliness.
The Long-Term Impact of Loneliness on Mental Health
The links between loneliness and mental health are well documented. According to UK government research, those who report chronic loneliness are 3.7 times more likely to experience mental distress. But the link also goes the other way — those with mental health issues are 2.8 times more likely to report chronic loneliness at a later date.
Sadly, this often leads to a negative spiral where loneliness, anxiety and isolation constantly reinforce each other. For example, if you have chronic issues with loneliness, you’re more likely to be admitted to an acute hospital as an emergency patient and more likely to stay in the hospital longer. There are also strong links between loneliness and depression and substance abuse. On the other hand, if you have support and can address your issues with loneliness and isolation, your outcomes are likely to be much better.
At FHE, we know how much loneliness and isolation anxiety can impact your long-term mental health and quality of life. Our mental health professionals are well-equipped to discuss your issues and provide support and treatment, including a diverse range of therapies such as interpersonal learning.
If you or a loved one is experiencing loneliness or isolation anxiety, contact us at FHE to learn more about our programs. You can also call (844) 299-0618 to speak to a trained professional and start along the road to improved mental health.